Saturday, October 12, 2013

How not to eat Ramen everyday as a Student (particularly Grad Students)

Mystery Shopping

After I was able to settle down from the excitement of gaining acceptance to a great graduate school program, I realized that a) I was lucky to have a stipend and b) I had to make my budget work on a stipend.  Let's face it, I was tired of being creative with Top Ramen.  A person near and dear to my heart suggested that in order to get to know the area better, we sign up for Mystery Shops.  Have you ever seen those sketchy looking ads about Mystery Shoppers (e.g., Eat for Free)?  Well, we took a chance, and signed up for one of the companies. What transpired after that was a six year+ run of free food, paint, hotel stays, and shipping fees.  Now, it took awhile to get the prime time shops: Hotel stays.  To start, we would mostly eat at a chain restaurant (2 appetizers, 2 entrees, and dessert, and 2 drinks).  Then you fill out a detailed review and submit a copy of the receipt). Therefore a mystery shopper is a person who pretends to be an regular old customer, but you are expected to assist in ensuring good business practices, including customer service, quality of food, extent of an employee's knowledge.  Each assignment will ask for specific things (e.g., Did the employee greet you)?  An example of a company is Inteli-Shop.

There are two caveats: 
1) For every legitimate company that we have used, submission of SSN is required, as you are technically making money on some of these shops.  I am not advocating you do this.  You must evaluate the credibility of each company before you give anyone your information.
2) You need to pay for the items first and you will be reimbursed within 30-60-or 90 days.  For some people this is difficult for start up and makes some people uncomfortable.  
3) Be weary of the cost-benefit analyses of some assignments.  Some assignments will give you money to use to purchase items during the shop.  However, the survey may take 5-6 hours, and it  may not be worth your time.

Ok now that I've provided some caveats, I do have to say, the best shops are:
1) Staying at a hotel for one night, getting free dinner at the lounge (2 appetizers, 2 entrees, drinks), room service for dessert, and free breakfast for two people.
2) $100 for two people at a fine dining restaurant
3) Free massage + free parking
4) Free gallon of paint

Needless to say even after I graduated, it is still nice to save a buck AND have some luxuries.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article are solely my own.  The reader is solely responsible for researching companies and enrolling at their own risk.

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